Rooftop Films @ Sundance: Quick Reviews of Stay the Same Never Change, Old Partner, Humpday, and Stingray Sam


Like just about every other scribbler here at Sundance, I’m overwhelmed with all that I’m seeing and all that I want to write about. (In writing the previous sentence, I first was going to call myself a “journalist,” but then I realized whom I was, and I’m sadly not a journalist. Then I was going to say “blogger,” but I’m not exactly keeping blog form — my pieces are reviews appearing on a blog. “Writer” is too generic, “critic” too critical. So I’m using “scribbler,” which Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times kept using to describe himself in the Sundance panel discussion I recently saw.

What I am doing in no way compares to what he’s doing, but I think the word is adorable. And, there: now I’ve acted bloggy, and knocked off some words, thus assuaging the guilt I’m about to tell you about.) So, not writing as much as I would’ve liked, I’ve been feeling bad, and wanted to file a quick report on a few of my favorite films here this year. I hope to add full reviews of these films soon, but wanted to make sure to recommend them as soon as I could so people could check them out.

Stay the Same Never Change (directed by Laurel Nakadate) One of the most original, thoughtful, bizarre and wonderful films I’ve seen at the festival. Stay the Same Never Change is set in Kansas City and stars a series of teenage girls in their own rooms and clothes, but Nakadate has crafted a world in which the banal becomes extreme and the normal is infused with a chronic and discomforting strangeness. By turns hilarious and horrifying, every word, sound and visual composition in video artist Nakadate’s debut narrative feature crackles with pathos, representing Midwestern American teen lives, and (as Nakadate pointed out in the Q&A) the memories and feelings we carry with us into adulthood.

Old Partner (directed by Lee Chung-ryoul) A verite documentary about a 79-year-old Korean farmer, his wife, and the ox they’ve had for 40 years. The farmer’s wife nags her husband — sometimes playfully and sometimes with bitter cruelty — to get rid of the ox and get a tractor. Sweet, witty, poignant and noble, the film follows them for about a year as they are all getting old and feeble, struggling to maintain their way of life or finally change it, or lastly leave it. An absolutely gorgeous film.

Humpday (directed by Lynn Shelton) We showed Shelton’s last feature film, My Effortless Brilliance, in 2008, and her new work picks up on many of the same themes — re-united friends, male bonding, manliness and homoeroticism. In this film, the two friends are locked into a mutual dare to make a porn film together, much to the chagrin of one guy’s wife and, frankly, both of them. “It’s not gay,” they say, “It’s beyond gay.” Handled with a light, naturalistic tone, anchored by inspired and intelligent writing and stunning, nuanced performances. Constantly funny in unexpected ways, the film also raises fascinating issues about homosexuality, friendship and love.

Stingray Sam (directed by Cory McAbee) The man who is The American Astronaut — a cult classic cowboy-space-rock musical work of bizarre genius — returns with a six-part series of short films about an outlaw lounge singer from strange impoverished planet, his olive-addicted buddy, and their inter-galactic quest to rescue the universe’s last girl after generations of pharmaceutical company and government-managed male-male cloning. Each episode figures a smattering of dialogue scenes, one or two musical numbers, and a history lesson. It should go without saying that it’s all hilarious and dazzling. What’s surprising is that Stingray Same also surprisingly socially-relevant.

* * * By the way, I do see movies at Sundance that I don’t like. It’s just that even for Sundance films it’s hard to build an audience, and given the fact that I’m seeing up to six films a day and having trouble writing about more than one, I figure I’ll only write about the films I really love. Unless I can come up with something really excoriating.

More detailed reviews and little capsules to come…

– Mark Elijah Rosenberg, Founder & Artistic Director of Rooftop Films